Local and state leaders are calling for the resignation of Williamson County Sheriff Robert Chody and for the deputies involved in Javier Ambler’s death to be fired. They’re raising alarm about yet another case of a black person dying at the hands of police officers as people across the nation continue to march in protest of police brutality and racial injustice, sparked by the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
Some Texas Democrats are urging Gov. Greg Abbott to call a special legislative session to pass laws on policing and criminal justice and asking why the governor hasn’t yet publicly acknowledged the Ambler case even as he condemned Floyd’s death in Minneapolis as a “horrific act of police brutality” that he said must be prevented in Texas.
Last year, Williamson County deputies pursued Ambler in a car chase for 22 minutes after trying to pull him over for not dimming his headlights. After he crashed, deputies held Ambler down and shocked him with a Taser four times before his body went limp. Ambler told the officers he had congestive heart failure and couldn’t breath, according to the Austin American-Statesman, which first reported on the newly available body camera footage this month. Ambler died in a hospital about an hour after he was last shocked with a Taser. He was unarmed, and body camera footage showed he wasn’t resisting.
His death was ruled a homicide. None of the officers involved have been arrested or fired.
“This is another unarmed black man killed in America. This time, it's in our backyard. This time, it's our neighbor. This time, it was followed by 15 months of secrecy,” said state Rep. James Talarico, a Round Rock Democrat, who has called for Chody to resign.
State Rep. Celia Israel, D-Austin, wrote a letter to Abbott to call for a special session. Democratic state Reps. Lorraine Birabil of Dallas, Donna Howard of Austin, Michelle Beckley of Carrollton, John Bucy III of Austin, and Talarico have also called for a special session.
“Once again, Americans are mourning a Black man taken by an unjust and deadly police force, and this murder has sparked a nationwide response against institutional racism and police brutality. Here in Texas, this is sadly something with which we are all too familiar,” Israel wrote in a letter to the governor. “Enough is enough — meaningful, systemic reform cannot wait.”
Abbott did not respond to request for comment for this story.
Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa called on GOP leaders to join Democrats in demanding justice for Ambler.
“Texas’ Republican leadership — Gov. Abbott, Lt. Gov. [Dan] Patrick, and Sens. [John] Cornyn and [Ted] Cruz — must join Texas Democrats in calling for his prompt resignation and full accountability,” he said.
All four of the Republicans condemned Floyd’s death and the actions of the Minneapolis police department, but they have not publicly acknowledged Ambler’s case.
Calls for Chody’s ouster have come from his own county’s commissioners, state representatives and former presidential candidate Julián Castro.
“The only natural response would be for Williamson County Sheriff Chody to resign, for the officers to lose their job. And for there to be an independent investigation of the department,” Talarico said.
Chody has said he will not resign and cast those who call for his removal as being anti-police.
“Representative Talarico has done zero for law enforcement in regards to the county in his two years in office. Another progressive who wants to defund police. I’ll accept his resignation instead,” he tweeted in response to Talarico’s comments.
The Williamson County sheriff’s department maintains that its deputies did nothing wrong, according to an internal affairs investigation obtained by the Statesman.
Of Williamson County’s four commissioners, two — Cynthia Long and Terry Cook — called for Chody’s resignation, and the other two condemned his actions, according to reports.
In an email, Cook declined to comment but said the county “cannot fire any elected officials.”
Chody could not be reached for comment.
These calls to action come as protests sparked by the death of Floyd — a black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes — have initiated a nationwide reimagining of policing across the country.
In addition to the body camera footage, the Williamson County incident was also caught on camera for an episode of “Live PD,” a recently canceled police reality show that never aired.
In a tweet, Chody denied accusations from Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore that he’s purposefully slowed the investigation of Ambler’s death or tried to cover it up.
Chody said his office turned over its footage of the incident and “participated fully” in the Austin Police Department’s investigation.
“Travis County D.A. Moore needs to focus on completing her 16-month-old Ambler investigation. Instead, she is trying to blame her own failures on the Williamson County Sheriff's Department,” Chody tweeted.
State Sen. John Whitmire, chair of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, proposed that the Texas Rangers take over the investigation into Ambler’s death, according to reports.
In a Statesman op-ed last week, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton asked the Legislature to allow his office to investigate instances when police kill people. Currently, the officer’s agency is in charge of conducting such an investigation.
“When it comes to officer-involved deaths, local agencies need more accountability,” Paxton wrote. “… Given that fact, it’s not reasonable to expect local prosecutors to easily turn to investigate and even prosecute those with whom they work on a regular basis.”